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Josef Škvorecký: Zbabelci (The Cowards)

First published in Czechoslovakia in 1958, it was banned almost immediately because of its criticism of the events surrounding the Soviet”liberation” of Czechoslovakia in 1945. It is set in the small Czechoslovak town of Kostelec during one week in May 1945 and recounts the life of Danny Smiricky. Despite the retreating Germans and advancing Soviets, Danny has only two real interests – women and jazz. Most of the book recounts Danny’s interest in playing his sax and getting laid and, in that, it is like many other young-man-growing-up novels. He despises authority (of course), lusts after Irena and is, reluctantly, prepared to fight the Germans but not to liberate his country but to impress Irena. But this book is like too many other young-man-growing-up novels, even if is set against a background of the end of the war and the retreating German army. Yes, shooting Germans, playing the sax and getting laid are all great fun but they do not necessarily make for great literature.

Publishing history

First published in Czech by Ceskoslovenský spisovatel 1958
First published in English by Grove Press 1970
Translated by Jeanne Nemcova